Jun 03 2013

Common Core is common sense

Big names in business and politics gathered on Mackinac Island last week for the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Michigan Policy Conference. In addition to conversations about the state’s economic development efforts, a major focus of this year’s conference was education. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and “education reform activist” Michelle Rhee both had prominent roles in the program. And while I don’t normally agree with these folks, I found myself cheering them on when it came to Common Core State Standards.

Anyone in education can tell you about Common Core. It is an initiative launched by the National Governor’s Association in an attempt to set shared national goals in reading, writing, and math. This means that if you live in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, you will walk out of kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and so on with the same skills as someone living in Billings, Montana or Houston, Texas.

It makes sense, right? If we are teaching kids certain skills in fourth grade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, shouldn’t that be similar to what fourth graders are learning across the country? The answer is yes. We should have rigorous national goals for our students. We should be moving together toward a more educated society.

Yet some on the far left are opposed to Common Core because they claim it quashes an educator’s creativity in the classroom, and some on the far right are opposed to Common Core because they believe it is an intrusion of the federal government in local schools. Both fringes are incredibly misguided when it comes to this issue.

As an educator in Wisconsin, I work with Common Core. It informs the work that I do so that I know my students are first-grade ready by the time they leave my classroom. Yet, Common Core is vague enough that I have the creativity to develop my own curriculum. It isn’t being shoved down my throat by the federal government. Yes, some districts may have to make adjustments to meet Common Core, but the payoff of having strong national standards will be theoretical and literal dividends via an educated citizenry. We should expect and accept nothing less.

5 Responses

  1. meghank

    The issue people are having with the common core, both on the left and on the right, is the massive increase in high-stakes testing it requires. They tell me in my state that next year Kindergartners will be required to take a high stakes standardized test as a result of the common core.

    I personally also have an issue with the requirement that children read 50% fiction and 50% informational text. This conflicts with my personal dedication to allow children to choose their own reading material, particularly in the lower grades. You can’t get a kid hooked on reading if you require them to read something that bores them half the time.

  2. The issues I have with the Common Core aren’t about their impact on my creativity. They’re about whether or not these standards are developmentally appropriate for most children. They’re about how to roll these out without any investment in training or new curricula (indeed, the Common Core is going to make me far more creative in some senses). They’re about the weasel words (“with prompting and support”) and the hidden assumptions (both consortiums have released practice questions for Kindergarten that require children to recognize coins and their value, despite coinage not making an appearance in the standards until 2nd grade). They’re about the introduction of computer-based Common Core exams to Kindergarten classrooms, promising more screen time and less interaction.

    These may not be important concerns to you. But dismissing the real questions that veteran educators, experts in child development and neurology, and thousands of parents have about these standards is shoddy thinking.

    Indeed, it is a concern for me that so many proponents of the Core are so unwilling to engage with those who disagree with them.

  3. Should tests be the be all end all of school? Absolutely not. Should students be tested to see how they rank against their peers? Absolutely.

    As for fiction/non-fiction, I think there’s plenty of room for student choice, but we as educators should be exposing our students to both. Perhaps in the morning I read a fiction book and in the afternoon I do a math lesson that incorporates a non-fiction text on the same subject. Rather than silo books into a literacy block, I think Common Core pushes us to insert literacy into all subjects.

    I don’t know what to say about practice tests not matching the standards, but that’s a separate issue than whether or not we should have national standards. Of course the tests should match the standards. If any test didn’t, then I would be standing right beside you in opposition. But let’s move forward with common sense standards.

    • meghank

      I’ve heard that argument about the fiction/informational text requirements, and my response is always this: suppose you have an avid reader who loves to read only fantasy stories. Do you require that reader to read less of the stories she loves and more of the non-fiction she doesn’t like at all? In the lower grades, as I’m sure you know, there is very little engaging non-fiction written at the very lowest reading levels. Or suppose you have a boy who loves to read non-fiction and hates fairy tales and other fiction stories. Make him read the genre he hates so much or let him read informational texts to his heart’s content?

      “Exposing” children to other genres is very different from requiring them to read another type of material for HALF of the time, and that is what is written in the common core standards. I understand you will say that the requirement is to read MORE non-fiction, not less fiction in the reading block. But there are many avid readers of fiction (I was one) who will read so much fiction in the literacy “block” that it would be impossible to read enough non-fiction in the other subjects to make up 50%.

      Remember, we are talking about the lower grades, here. Social studies and science lessons should not come out of a textbook in these grades. They should be hands-on, engaging activities. This is in addition the fact that there is very little non-fiction text written at their level.

      But I am digressing too much. You really think kindergartners should take a standardized test? And you taught Pre-K? Wow…

  4. Yes, I want to quantify my students’ work. Also, I don’t find that to be a far-out position. Yes, I just finished two years as a TFA teacher, but I took classes with many professors who believe in testing students of all ages and I work in an early ed center with three traditionally trained teachers who believe in testing students of all ages. My mentors, who taught in Milwaukee Public Schools for 35+ years each believe in testing students of all ages.

    Do I think every test is going to be an accurate measure of a student’s success? Absolutely not. But for the vast majority it is a barometer of progress.

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I'm an educator, Kalamazoo College alumnus, Democrat, and proud Detroiter! Views here are my own.


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